“That’s the thing about lies. They always come out eventually.”
So says the devious Mia, Hank Moody’s ex-girlfriend and plagiarist, in the final episode of Californication’s third season. The lie in this case is that Hank had an affair with her when she was sixteen – he didn’t know it, but made no effort to verify her age. He wrote a novella about the experience and she stole it, securing his compliance with the threat of full disclosure. I waited through all of the second season for this time bomb to explode, wondering when Karen would read the book (she would know Hank’s style instantly, just as his agent Runkle did), when the lie would be exposed, when the truth would hit, when the birds would fly into the jet engine and bring Hank’s life crashing down. It didn’t happen and I wrote a post about it here, chastising Tom Kapinos for narrative cowardice, accusing him of being too soft on his characters, comparing him to the great Jenji Kohan of Weeds, who flenses her hapless creations with the glee of a drunken sushi chef every week. I had one comment on that post that struck me as odd – it was so strident in defense of the writers, and so detailed in its knowledge of the show, that I wondered for a deluded moment if perhaps Kapinos himself had posted that response. Well, whether it was him or not, someone must have gotten through to him, or perhaps he had this plan in mind all along. In any case, the last episode of this season was a heart-wrenching triumph and a total vindication of the show: a powerful return to everything I loved about it from the beginning. It may have even been the best episode ever. And the questions teem to mind: can Karen ever forgive him? Can his daughter ever forgive him? Can he somehow reassemble the meaningful life he’s been taking for granted for so long? Will the truth help his career? Will he be able to write in the glare of publicity? Will he beat the assault rap for punching Mi9a’s manager? Will she press statutory rape charges after all? Will Hank go back to New York? Suddenly all these questions have taken on a new urgency. Standing in the light of an unforgiving truth, all these people seem lovely and fragile and precious again, even Hank himself. Even Mia becomes more human, with her bewilderment and regret, living a lie, famous for nothing, unable to write a second book wounding everyone around her as her falsehoods metastasize.
I had heard that the final scene between Hank and Karen was played without audible dialogue, under the soundtrack of Elton John’s Rocket Man. Not presenting the actual scene felt like a cop-out, at least in theory. In fact it worked beautifully. We know these characters so well, and understand their crisis so intimately, that we can write the dialogue ourselves. If I taught a creative writing class, I would assign that scene to my students, and hope they would address the one remaining mystery: why Karen didn’t read Mia’s book long before (or even glance through it); and why she didn’t recognize Hank’s style at the bookstore reading featured in the final episode. At first it seemed like a plot hole. Then I thought about it a little more, and wound up writing my own version of that last argument.
Hank: It’s about Mia
Karen: Is she all right?
Hank: No, no, she’s fine. It’s –
Karen:What? What is it?
Hank: I never wanted to tell you this –
Hank: I knew there was no way you could –
Karen: You slept with her.
Hank: Karen –
Karen, Oh my God., You fucking slept with her. When did this happen. Two nights ago, you said you were Runkle, but –
Hank: No, no, it was long before that, Long before we were back together
Karen When I was with Bill.
Hank: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, it was –
Karen: She was a teenager, Hank.
Hank: Wait a second, I –
Karen: She was sixteen years old!
Hank I didn’t know that., I swear. I met her in a book store, I thought she was just another lit groupie, I had no idea –
Karen: So it was you. In the book. Punching and fucking.
Hank: That was fiction, that had nothing to do with –
Karen: Oh Jesus. Now I get it.
Hank: Karen –
Karen: I knew it! When we were sitting at that fucking reading and she was reading your words and I was telling myself no it isn’t possible it can’t be, she’s a disciple, she’s a mimic, it can’t be Hank’s book .I can’t be. What an idiot I am. I should have just read it when you practically begged me to, at Bill’s house. Then it disappeared and you never mentioned again and Mia was suddenly a writer, and … I almost looked at it so many times. But I just couldn’t. I must have known. Some part of me must have known. I just couldn’t deal with it. I looked away and I was going to keep looking away, go to New York start again and pretend I had no idea, make myself believe I was crazy because I couldn’t stand the thought that –
Hank: I wanted to tell you –
Karen: The hell you did! She blackmailed you, Hank! That’s the only explanation, that’s why she backtracked at the wedding after she scared the shit out of everyone. But it doesn’t matter if you talk now because she can’t write another book. Isn’t that it? She’s going public so you had to tell me.
Hank: I didn’t want to hurt you –
Karen Well too bad. Too fucking bad, it’s too late you piece of shit, you fucking worthless prick, you --
And this is where she starts punching him; they run outside with their daughter Becca chasing them; and then the police arrive to arrest Hank for assaulting Mia’s manager. He's in the biggest trouble of his life, all of it well-earned.
What happens next? I don’t know.
I’m just glad it finally matters again.